May 082021

Is anti-immigration sentiment behind the radical right vote in all of Europe?

It’s been a mere three decades since 1990, or as we old-timers are prone to say, a generation. But for some (cough) Europeanists, the CEE countries are still either terra incognita or just an extension of their western counterparts. While much of the best work on the Radical Right in Europe is comparative, this comparison is often confined to the same 12 or 15 countries that counted as European when the field emerged in the 1980s and 1990s.

In this part of the continent, the importance of nativism, and more specifically, anti-immigrant sentiment, for the Radical Right vote is well established. But how relevant are concerns over immigration in the east, where net immigration is a very recent phenomenon? That is the question that Brils, Muis, and Gaidytė are addressing in this recent contribution. Their analysis is based on ESS data from 16 European countries that were collected shortly before or during the so-called refugee crisis of 2015/16.

Brils, T., Muis, J., & Gaidytė, T. (2020). Dissecting Electoral Support for the Far Right: A Comparison Between Mature and Post-Communist European Democracies. Government and Opposition, online first.

What we liked

Students were happy that someone actually bothered to look how the immigration issue played out in different parts of Europe. They were also impressed that the authors grouped vote choices into four broad categories (far right, centre right, left, non-voters) instead of studying an alleged binary choice between the far right and everything else. Treating non-voters as a group in its own right was seen as an improvement over the analysis of a tripolar space. Using fairly recent data on an issue that is still highly salient was also seen as a plus by my students.

Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary

“Victor Orban during the debate on the political situation in Hungary” by European Parliament is licensed under CC by-nc-nd-2.0 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 1 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 2 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 3 What we are reading: Radical Right voters' motives in Eastern and Western Europe 4

We also found the theoretical framework reasonably clear, appreciated the references to recent literature, found the hypotheses plausible and the definitions lucid. They were particularly happy with the tables that provided a bird’s-eye view of all the hypotheses and the related major findings.

What we did not like so much

As with Oesch and Rennwald, students argued that the there are important differences between new (green) and old (socialist, social-democratic, communist) left parties, particularly when it comes to immigration. Lumping these choices together could therefore blur the picture. As always, some parties are hard to classify. Conversely, “far right” is a very broad category that includes radicalised mainstream parties, the Radical Right and even openly extremist outfits.

Students pointed out that the Mediterranean countries where most of the refugees arrived (Greece, Italy, Malta) were not included in the sample. Spain and Portugal were also missing, although they were hit hard by the Euro crisis, too, and had also  had high levels of immigration in the past. Moreover, Greece, Spain, and Portugal only returned to democracy in the 1970s, i.e. less than two decades before the CEE countries. And finally, students said that the number of hypotheses was a bit excessive. There you go.

Apr 292021

What we are reading: Corruption performance voting

Do voters punish government parties for high levels of corruption?

Performance voting is a generalisation of economic voting: the idea that voters governments punish/reward for good/bad, well, performance. Low levels of systemic corruption are both an aspect and a precondition for a polity’s performance, so studying how voters’ perceptions of corruption affect their voting behaviour is kind of straightforward – only that few people have done it. This article uses data from round 2 of the CSES (2001-2006) to do just that.

One of the main findings (in my view) is that party ID moderates the effect of corruption perceptions. For non-partisans, perceptions of widespread corruption have a strong negative effect on the likelihood of a pro-government vote, as they should. However, government supporters will vote for the government, and supporters of opposition parties will not vote for the government, no matter what either group thinks about levels of corruption in their country. More technically speaking, partisanship emerges once more as one hell of a drug.

Ecker, A., Glinitzer, K., & Meyer, T. M. (2016). Corruption performance voting and the electoral context. European Political Science Review, 8(3), 333–354.

What we liked

Students liked the clarity of the theory section, the elegance of the economic/performance voting link, and the interaction plots. They also thought that the topic was super interesting.

What we did not like so much

Students may have been a bit grouchy, but they came up with a long list of potential improvements. Here are the most important points:

Students said that the definition of corruption given in the text was very broad, whereas the item in the survey was highly specific. Table 1 in the text has tiny entries (even given their youthful eyes) and did not show the random effects or the number of cases on the upper level.

Abundance achievement bank banknotes

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Contents-wise, students asked about the policy lessons that could be learned from this research (ouch!), demanded additional system-level variables including measures for freedom of the press and even suggested a longitudinal perspective.

After reading a couple of useful primers on multi-level modelling last week, students also noted the absence of an empty model as well as a far bigger problem: the number of contexts (national elections) is really low (about 20, simply because this CSES round covers a limited number of countries), whereas there are three macro level variables and two cross-level interactions. This is asking a lot of relatively few data points. Having realised this, the finally stopped banging on about more interesting system-level variables that could be included.

Apr 292021

The reading class exercise goes on. Inevitably, the class on the consequences of the Radical Right’s rise kicks off with some recent work on the underlying causes.

What is the link between social class and radical right voting in Western Europe?

The idea that the radical right forms a new party family, whose rise is the result of changes in the class structure of European societies has been around for a while. Kitschelt, Betz, and Kriesi were amongst the earliest proponents, and Kitschelt/Rehm (2014) develop some interesting ideas about the mechanisms behind these alignments. Oesch and Rennwald have been working in this field for a long time, too.

This article, which was published in EJPR three years ago, is almost an instant classic. Having said that, I have previously found the article a bit busy (by now, I’m conditioned to only digest bite-sized pieces that do one single thing in 6,000 words or less). And, my personal bug-bear, the text uses “poles” and “party families” as exchangeable, but on closer inspection, their poles encompass several party families.

  • Oesch, D., & Rennwald, L. (2018). Electoral competition in Europe’s new tripolar political space: class voting for the left, centre-right and radical right. European Journal of Political Research, 57(), 783–807.

What we liked

Students said that the statistical analyses were quite focused and presented in an accessible way, i.e. with tables and graphs that convey the meaning of what is being done. They pointed out that the paradox of service and production workers that vote against their own economic interests really comes to the fore in these analyses. So does the lack of left-wing authoritarian parties in most contemporary European societies. One student made the connection with the gender gap in radical right voting: if the distribution of jobs in European societies is heavily gendered (compare e.g. education and medicine/nursing on the one hand and production/construction on the other) and if the logic of workplace relations has an impact on one’s politics, it makes perfect sense that the radical right disproportionately attracts male voters.

factory, industry, abandoned

Photo by MichaelGaida on Pixabay

What we did not like so much

Students agreed that “poles” are not really party families. More specifically, they argued that one should differentiate between Old Left/New Left parties. Taking on board some ideas from my other MA course, they argued that contextual/institutional factors (e.g. type of welfare state) should be taken into account. They wondered about what goes into the “cultural” dimension of party competition (don’t we all) and were a bit baffled by some of the comparisons in the last part of the text, which read like comparisons over time but are actually comparisons between groups of countries.

Apr 272021

Working with repeated comparative survey data – almost a howto

There is now a bonanza of studies that rely on surveys which are replicated across countries and time, often with fairly short intervals, with the ESS arguably one of the most prominent examples (but also see the “barometer” studies in various regions). Multi-level analysis is now the weapon of choice to tackle these data, but the appropriate structure of such models is not immediately obvious: are we looking at waves nested in countries? Countries nested in waves? Or rather at surveys cross-classified by year and country? What’s the role of the small-n problem when we are talking about countries? And does the notion of sampling even make sense when we are talking about what is effectively the whole population of countries that could be studied?

  • Schmidt-Catran, A. W., & Fairbrother, M. (2016). The random effects in multilevel models: getting them wrong and getting them right. European Sociological Review, 32(1), 23–38.
  • Schmidt-Catran, A. W., Fairbrother, M., & Andreß, H. (2019). Multilevel models for the analysis of comparative survey data: common problems and some solutions. , 71(1), 99–128.

What we liked

It’s difficult to have a discussion about a text that provides a lot of factual information about methodological bits and bobs, especially when you have little prior knowledge. Having said that, students found both texts (which are related but complementary) remarkably accessible and helpful.

Schmidt-Catran, Fairbrother, Andreß 2019: 112

Sad but true: comparative analysis is hard, and multi-level models are no panacea. Nothing ever is. Bugger.

What we did not like so much

Nothing. Students liked these two. So did I. Period.

Apr 262021
Traditionally, Germany’s long, gloomy, depressing and generally horrible winter semester ends mid-February. It is followed by a break that slips past us in the blink of an eye and then a long, sweaty, generally drawn-out but gloriously sunny summer term that ends mid-July. And this is where we are now (the beginning, not the end).

For a couple of years I have been teaching mostly MA students. While I sometimes miss the fresh-faced innocence of first-year BAs who will happily ask for permission to write their first ever 12-page essay, to be finished next week or so, about “German’s political system” (all of it), this has many perks. One of them are reading courses: seminars in which we collectively tackle a number of short and usually fairly recent papers in one specific area of Political Science that I would like to read anyway.

glasses, reading glasses, spectacles

Photo by Free-Photos on Pixabay

This semester, I offer not one but two of these courses. This first is built around the idea that institutions and other (macro-)contextual factors shape political attitudes and political behaviour. The other course is (mostly) concerned with the political outcomes of radical right mobilisation – a topic that deserves more love, especially in comparison to all the attention given to the sources and preconditions of said mobilisation. Feel free to peruse the outlines/references as you see fit.

Once more, my personal aim is to blog every week about our reading progress. Let’s see how it goes.

Apr 212021

How important are local weather extremes for citizens’ attitudes towards climate change?

Humans are generally stupid and tend to ignore things that seem abstract and will happen in the future (even if the future is not very distant). There is a small-ish literature on how Americans’ climate opinion responds to more extreme/hotter weather. And then there is this new paper, which was written by a very, very good Masters student and looks at the correlation between climate opinion and the temperature in the week of the interview. When I planned the seminar, this was one of my favourites.

Damsbo-Svendsen, S. (2020). How Weather Experiences Strengthen Climate Opinions in Europe. West European Politics, (), .

What we liked

Students liked the idea of applying something from the US literature in a European context. Climate change is pretty high on their own agenda, but apart from that, they were (positively) surprised that social scientists can (and should) model the effects of real, physical variables on attitudes.

thermometer, summer, heiss

Photo by geralt on Pixabay

They also liked that the author was very much aware of the limits of his analysis, super transparent regarding his data and model, and provided a graph for one of the robustness checks.

What we did not like so much

Students were less impressed with the notion of “news exposure”. Going forward, they wanted to know which media reported on what kind of weather extremes, and who consumed which media content. I tend to disagree, because I think that the author provided a useful simplification and still found an effect, but there we are. Moreover, I suspect that the whole section on media exposure was grafted on the finish product at the behest of an evil reviewer.

A more serious problem is that for bigger countries, more fine-grained information on local weather should be analysed. But again, this simplification makes the whole thing more conservative, so I’m not worried. And finally, students wanted more theory. Kids these days …

Apr 212021

How important are social incentives for turnout?

Since the earliest election studies, we have assumed that social networks are important for turnout, and that voting more generally is a form of social behaviour (and also a habit). While there are heaps of data to support these ideas, this study from Denmark is quite something. Thanks to Scandinavia’s love for efficiency and science, as opposed to her glorious disregard for data protection and stuff, the authors are able to link panel data to fine-grained information on when people living in the same household entered their local polling station in various elections. Yes, that’s right.

Bhatti, Y., Fieldhouse, E., & Hansen, K. M. (2020). It’s a Group Thing: How Voters Go to the Polls Together. Political Behavior, 42(1), 1–34.

What we liked

The data: we observe actual behaviour, over years. We know where people live, and with whom. Plus, we also have socio-demographic information on them. And there are so many of them. Wow. Just wow.

What we were reading: Voting as group behaviour 5

What we did not like so much

Students did not at all worry about data protection. In this regard at least, my work on this plane is done. Otherwise, they were quite critical. They said that the paper was a bit short on theory (wow again), and that they wanted a better explanation for the “potential voting companion” effect. They also argued that local and EU elections were not necessarily comparable and worried about some other (rather specific) points. But in the end we agreed that this is seriously cool stuff.
Apr 172021
Family parking

Is there a political gender gap amongst young Germans?

Gender gaps are everywhere, but there are some places where they are less likely. According to the authors, young Germans represent a least likely case for gender differences in political activity: female levels of educational attainment are actually higher than male ones, and adolescence is a time (for many) before those aspects of family life kick in that tend hold women back.

But as it turns out, “least likely” is actually “not determinstically likely, but very likely”. The authors find substantial differences in the socialisation of young men and women, which are linked to rather dramatic differences in internal efficacy and self esteem. They also uncover evidence that men benefit more from factors that contribute to political activity, particularly in institutional settings. Intriguing, depressing, hardly surprising.

Pfanzelt, H., & Spies, D. C. (2019). The Gender Gap in Youth Political Participation: Evidence from Germany. Political Research Quarterly, 72(1), 34–48.

What we liked

Students were over the moon. They praised the clear structure, the strength of the theoretical argument, the clear exposition and the empirical strategy. Also (for once), this was about something that they actually deemed relevant. According to them, this was easily the best paper that we read all winter. I agree.

What we did not like so much

Nothing to declare.

Apr 142021
What we were reading: Campaign Effects and Issue Voting 6

How much of a difference do campaigns make?

Conventional wisdom says that electoral campaigns remind voters who they are and what they want. So they do not change much, but still matter, because the outcome could be very different without all the reminders. This little gem here is a bit unusual, because it tracks a referendum campaign in Denmark, not a normal electoral race. Also, there is detailed information on the timing of information.

Beach, D., & Finke, D. (2020). The long shadow of attitudes: differential campaign effects and issue voting in eu referendums. West European Politics, (online first), .

What we liked

Students loved the fact, how the authors made use of panel data. They were also convinced by the rather intricate hypotheses that link to the literature on motivated reasoning. These complications not withstanding, they found the text quite accessible.

Politikens Hus, the central offices for Denmark’s biggest newspaper ‘Politiken’.

Photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

What we did not like so much

Ordered logit regression comes with problems of its own (hello parallel regressions assumption). We were not convinced that OLR is really necessary or even justified in this application. We also found some of the graphs a bit confusing. And like last week, students said that the summary (and even the presentation of the findings) were a bit too concise.

Apr 142021
What we were reading: Cross-cutting exposure and political participation 7

Does cross-cutting exposure help or hinder participation?

Somewhat predictably, I fell off the seminar-blogging wagon shortly after the break. But hey, this is a digital semester, so we have actual archived notes of our virtual meetings.

One of the first texts we read in the new year was this one: a specimen of the meta-analytic approach that is becoming more and more popular in Political Science. In this one, the authors want to find out if cross-cutting exposure (i.e. escaping from the filter bubble) has any positive or negative effects on political participation. Turns out that there is insufficient evidence for either.

Matthes, J., Knoll, J., Valenzuela, S., Hopmann, D. N., & Sikorski, C. v. (2019). A meta-analysis of the effects of cross-cutting exposure on political participation. Political Communication, 36(4), 523–542.

What we liked

Most students had never heard of meta-analyses and were quite intrigued. They found the idea of pooling evidence from several published studies “stimulating” (their words) and were particularly happy that the authors had carefully documented each of their steps. They also liked the presentation of research questions and hypotheses.

Finally, some students had previously heard of publication bias. They were impressed that the authors applied a test for that, and were even more impressed that a journal had the guts to publish null results.

What we did not like so much

Some students were disappointed that the authors did not conduct any primary analysis, but (wait for it!), that’s the whole point of a meta analysis, right? A more serious criticism (levelled more at the journal and its page limit than at the authors) was that at least two interesting graphs were relegated to the appendices. And finally, students said that the summary & outlook section was too short. While I agree, I can also relate to the authors: you do all the work, you write it up, why should you have to summarise it again?